Monday, June 22, 2009

The "Off Hand" Debate- Enough with the Stupidity!


On my local league forum, there is a feverish debate going on from the "local experts" regarding off hand throwing. The original question was this.

Should I practice throwing with my less dominant arm? Submitted by XXXXX on June 19, 2009 - 8:09pm. Ultimate General Discussion Personally I think it's not completely beneficial, but still potentially effective. Is there anyone who feels that having the ability to throw with either arm essential?

I am very disappointed with some of the responses. Here is a snippet of the general conversation
  • Someone who is not a doctor (even on TV) states that "A side benefit is that your left and right muscular development will be less out of balance and thus you will be less likely to suffer injury".
  • "I've been working on my lefty throws for nearly 5 years. And though they look great in warm-up"
  • Another post "I got great advice from a top comp handler many years ago when I was just starting to throw with both hands: master your throws with one hand first, then work on the other."
  • Another piece of advice "If you're already great at more standard throws, work on your lefty throws"
Let me just state my case:
  1. The number of players that are truly great at throwing in the world would be shockingly small. Many of us can hit general areas, but few of us have truly mastered throws on our dominant hand
  2. As an ultimate player reading this (you), I can almost guarantee you that no one watches you warm up. And no one thinks throwing off hand is cool. They might think less seriously of you and the sport, but these watchers/fans probably don't exist in the first place.
  3. People that are not doctors, or certified strength and training professionals shouldn't be giving tips on muscular development and injury prevention.
  4. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that you can't throw with your dominant hand in ultimate.
  5. Do you see Quarterbacks throwing with both hands in the NFL? Do you see pitchers (who would actually utilize an asset in being able to throw with both hands) throwing opposite arms in MLB? No, because it's stupid and it doesn't help.
Why are people fascinated with using their off hand to throw? I don't know. Maybe this happens in every sport, where lots of decent athletes waste time on silly parts of the game (looking for enjoyment) instead of focusing on advancing as an efficient and valuable player.

There is a reason you have a dominant hand. Use it.


Jamie said...

While I agree that spending hours improving your offhand at the expense of developing basic dominant-hand throws is ill-advised - that doesn't mean that there aren't some very serviceable off-handed throws that are very useful to have in your arsenal as a competitive player. Stating that players should all become world-class level (ie. nothing left to improve upon) with their dominant hand before looking to develop their off-hand is very short-sighted in my view.

Basically, any shorter distance backhand, flip, push-pass, or scoober with your off-hand can be extremely useful and can often be released and used as a capable break-mark or zone-busting throw much easier than its' dominant hand alternative.

As a right handed player, I find the left scoober option often wide open and depending on the mark, much easier to get off than the around backhand break or IO flick break. Likewise, while I have tried to develop a high release flick for certain situations, I have found that a lefty backhand works just as well and is easier for my receiver to read.

The key is developing throws that are actually serviceable in a game situation. To compare to another sport - all competitive basketball players are taught at a very young age to develop a short range game with their off hand (layups, hooks, floaters). This is because there are many an occasion during a basketball game that require this level of ambidexterity to elude the defender and even at the local middle school level you will see effective use of both hands on these types of shots. But other than as a don't see basketball players practicing 30FT fade-aways with their off hand - the # of gametime situations that this alternative is more useful than using your dominant hand is so low that it doesn't warrant the development of this skill. Bringing it back to Ultimate, I have yet to convince myself that a 40 yard lefty flick will be something I can use in a game - so why work on that? But a 7-15yard high release lefty backhand was relatively easy to develop and is something that I often use up to 5 times a tournament to get me out of situations that I would not otherwise been able to do with my right hand.

Bottom-line....every throw you practice should have a game-time application. If you can't imagine how you could ever use a throw in a game - then don't practice it....but don't box yourself in to using your dominant hand exclusively - you will limit the boundaries of your game overall.

Sport Management Steven said...


Overall, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree.

I still don't think I'm being short sighted on this. The majority of players have such a short playing "career" to master the throws before their body breaks down, they can't afford to waste time on off hand throws.

And think about it: If you have an strong to amazing short-long flick, push pass, hammer, scoober, low release backhand and huck on your dominant hand... then you have the arsenal to break anyone anywhere and be unpredictable doing so.

And you refer to the 7-15 yard lefty backhand that works so well for you. That may be, but I know for a fact in order to throw a backhand with accuracy one needs to cross the hips before the throw. It takes longer to get a backhand off than a flick.. that will be tough to argue. So why not spend time working on the faster throw from your dominant hand that once learned, makes it easier to throw on the best of the best?


I appreciate the basketball example. In that sport, you must be able to use both hands to dribble and both hands for shots and layups in order to prevent layups. You're very right on this. Part of the reason you have to do this is because in basketball we're trying to put the ball in a clearly defined spot (the basket). That makes the parallel to ultimate a little murkier.. but it still is a good point to raise.

And I have to thank you for stating:

"Bottom-line....every throw you practice should have a game-time application"


jhaig said...

"And you refer to the 7-15 yard lefty backhand that works so well for you. That may be, but I know for a fact in order to throw a backhand with accuracy one needs to cross the hips before the throw. It takes longer to get a backhand off than a flick.. that will be tough to argue. So why not spend time working on the faster throw from your dominant hand that once learned, makes it easier to throw on the best of the best?"

I think that this is where you are getting hung up on the usefulness of off hand throws. You don't need to have your feet set to throw backhands that short. It obviously helps, especially if you are a not an expert thrower. But the one advantage of the backhand is that you can throw it well and quickly, even with a wide variety of foot positions.

And while I would agree that if your feet are set that a flick is quicker then a backhand to throw, the point of these unconventional throws is to get out of spots where your feet aren't set and you don't have time to set up your flick. It's not about what throw is "better" given a perfect world, it's about being able to complete the pass quickly with whatever footing and grip you might have.

That said these aren't throws I would say I've mastered or use, and I generally discourage young players who are worrying too much about them, but to say that they have no place in competitive ultimate is inaccurate.

parinella said...

We discussed this three years ago on my blog. Conclusion: useful in certain circumstances as long as it's not at the expense of solid fundamentals.

After never throwing it before about 2006, I'll use the lefty backhand now about once a tournament, almost always on a 5-10 yard forward pass. If you subscribe to the "good thrower's don't pivot" theory, while in waiting position you stand in the forehand stance with both hands on the rim. The lefty backhand from there is quick and it is soft, unlike the forehand break, which also runs a higher risk of being point-blocked.

Eric St-Amant said...

I do remember a pitcher that played with the Expos in the mid 90s who could throw both hands. I cannot remember his name though. He had a special glove designed so he could swap from one hand to another. For anybody who knows about baseball, being ambidextrous in this sport can be extremely effective. The guys was one of a kind!

Sport Management Steven said...

Erik- The player in question is Greg Harris. Turns out he only got to use the talent once as an Expo. However, being able to throw lefty or righty would be a tremendous skill in baseball.

Haig- I don't want to ban off hand throws.. I just want people to realize how little these throws are the best alternative over dominant hand throws, and how these throws shouldn't be the focus of finite practice/throwing time.

parinella said...

There is a switch-pitcher named Pat Venditte in the Yankees system.

I think the basketball analogy is best here, although to a lesser extent. Maybe a better analogy would be for a middle infielder on double plays on balls close to second base. You need to be able to flip it underhanded, shuffle it, turn and throw, whatever, depending on the exact circumstances.

I think off-hand is in the same category as any other non-standard throw, rather than placing "push pass, hammer, scoober" along with flicks and hucks. Maybe you should be suggesting instead that learning a scoober is a waste of time. Even on an elite Open team, I wouldn't expect most of the players to throw more than one scoober in a whole season. So maybe given that you started this by citing a debate on a local league forum, you're right that these people shouldn't be throwing lefty. But if you're a handler on a club team or a primary receiver on an upper-level club team, at about the time you're working on that scoober, think about the lefty.

Sport Management Steven said...


I did indeed write the article in response to a local forum where a league player/newcomer asked if he/she should be working on their off hand throws.

Through this debate, I can give in to the idea that in the RAREST of circumstances, an off hand throw might be your only option or best option. (getting the disc off much sooner in the stall count would have been better).

As for the hammer/scoober/push pass debate, I do see the value in these throws from your dominant hand. I can't see a high level team being able to function through a UPA elite zone without handler(s) who can perform these.

If you have the flick (high/low) backhand (high low) scoober, hammer and push pass, you have 7 tools to hit any area on the field and remain unpredictable to any mark.

Player's limited practice time for throwing should be dedicated to master these.

Yaacov said...

I am one of many ultimate players with a repetitive strain injury to my pivot knee. In my case, it's patello-femoral syndrome and it's caused by a muscle imbalance.

Since last fall, as part of my warm-up I do throwing lunges as if I'm throwing with my left. Since I've started doing this, I haven't had to do any of the other physio exercises to control this injury.